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As art teachers, we have the opportunity to let kids know that their opinions, their vision, and their aesthetics matter. Andrew brings on AOE writer Lindsey Moss to chat about the idea of “Kidaesthetics”. Listen for their discussion on the difference between how kids and adults perceive art (6:00), how art teachers balance the aesthetic vision against the expectations of adults (9:30), and how we educate adults on what kids find aesthetically appealing (18:15). Full episode transcript below.
Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education, and I’m your host, Andrew McCormick.
Earlier this summer, I had a fantastic opportunity to get together with a bunch of amazing teachers at AOE headquarters in lovely Osage, Iowa. It was a really great opportunity to connect with these inspiring teachers from all over the country, and people that, for the most part, I only know via their writings and conference presentations online. I was sitting down next to Lindsey Moss, one of the absolute stars of the Summer Art Ed Now Conference that happened just a few weeks ago.
Side note, that conference was amazing. I really think that AOE has outdone themselves. I was like totally blown away by every single presentation. Lindsey’s presentation on how to solve that dilemma of early finishers was especially well received on the chat role and on social media, and my gosh, those handouts, those were amazing. Back to this podcast. Diehard fans of this show will remember that Lindsey was actually on way back on episode 48, on how best to work with parents.
Anyway, I’m sitting next to Lindsey at AOE headquarters, and I notice that she’s midway into this great story about art and how she perceived art when she was a really young girl, and how this sort of crystallizing moment in her youth has stayed with her, and how she sees art education now, and how we honor the lives and interests of young artists. Immediately, I was like, “Oh, I have to have you on to talk about this, because it’s just really interesting.”
I don’t want to give away too much, as she tells the story best, but she has a name for this revelation, and I think you’re really going to enjoy hearing this story.
Hey, Lindsey, thanks for joining us on the podcast.
Lindsey: Yeah, thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: Hey, we’ve had a really cool opportunity to see each other twice in the last month, which is awesome.
Way back in June, at the AOE retreat, you were telling this great story to everybody about some artwork that you were given as a young girl, and kind of how it shaped your notion of art education and art teaching, and you coined a word, and I want to let you kind of tell that story here in a second, but I want to let everyone know, like, while you were telling the story, I was like really locked in with attention, and I was just like, “Oh my gosh, this has to be a podcast talk.”
I’d love you to kind of share that story with our listeners, and that word that you kind of came up with.
Lindsey: Sure. Okay, so, like the conversation we were having, I was trying to articulate, I guess, kind of what I believe about kid aesthetics, and it kind of, the story that happened to me, this goes back to, I think I was probably five when this happened. At that time, my aunt lived in Michigan, and she was married, and we used to visit them a lot, in the summer, especially. Her husband, Rick, who was my uncle at the time, he was a designer, but sort of as like a side thing, he was a sculptor.
He had this shed like out in his backyard, and he would go out there, and he was doing like a lot of found object sculpture. I would sit in that shed and be sort of like amazed at the process, like watching a real artist working up close. He and I had a good relationship, and I remember he asked me, you know, “Lindsey, would you like me to make a piece for you?” That was like, you know, mind blowing as a kid, that an adult would spend a lot of time creating something specifically for you.
You know, I’m like five, and I’m a little girl with the taste of someone who’s five and a little girl, so I told him that I wanted a unicorn, right? In my mind, it was going to be the unicorn that ended all My Little Ponies, right, like pink and sparkly, and a rainbow flowing mane, and like amazing.
I don’t know how much time passed before the piece was ready, but then, when he gave it to me, there was a disconnect, because he gave me the piece and it was actually a, like a doll head, right, like the head of a doll with like a plastic horn on the top of it, from, that he found, and then I don’t even, the legs were made out of like maybe those things that toddlers use, like those rings that are stacking rings or whatever.
It’s funny, you know, after you and I talked about this at the retreat like last month, I started really thinking about it more and more, and talking to my mom and my aunt about what my reaction was to this piece. My mom kind of describes it as, like, horror, and my aunt said she thought I was super confused. Well, the thing is, my aunt and uncle got divorced when I was like in first grade, so I haven’t had any contact with this uncle in about 30 years, right? After you and I talked, I got really wondering about what his perspective is.
You know, like I have memory of this from when I was little, but I just kind of wondered what his impression of the situation was, so I, actually, I tracked him down, and we have talked about this now. He says that he was dumbfounded. He didn’t have kids and he really thought that I was going to love this piece. I guess his quote is that I said, “That is not a unicorn.” He was like, he was devastated by that reaction. Yeah, it’s something that has stuck with me for a long time. I think about it off and on. It’s interesting, I think, the way adults and kids perceive art so differently.
Andrew: Okay, so you have this great experience, this great story. I kind of wonder, though, when this word, this idea, this notion of kid aesthetics takes shape, because it’s clearly not right then and there when you’re five years old. I mean, kids don’t think of themselves as having kid aesthetics. They just like what they like.
I wonder like if you came out of college thinking about this moment, or maybe if you had a realization while teaching that kind of connected you back to this unicorn story and your kind of disconnect or disappointment in kid aesthetics and adult aesthetics not lining up.
Lindsey: You know, I wish I could say that it was that profound, that I really discovered that in college, or there was like an aha moment in my classroom, but I think it’s really been more as I’ve been a mom now, and so, you know, I live every day watching my daughters make aesthetic decisions, and that is really the time, I guess the period in my life that I started thinking back to this as like a more significant event in my life, I guess. You know, I mean, you’ve got kids, so you know how this is.
You tell them to go get dressed, and they go upstairs, and they come back down in this wild getup that you never in a million years would have expected somebody to put together. Or, you know, you’re talking with them about what happened during the day, and their perceptions or their drawings of something are just so different than what you had expected. I think while that happens in my classroom, too, it’s, I don’t know, it’s more unexpected when it’s your own children, somehow, to me.
I feel like this has been something I’ve been thinking about more recently, just as my kids are getting to be school age, and really be able to articulate better their opinions about art or just aesthetics in their everyday lives, their clothes, their rooms, their toys, the way things are designed or look. I guess really looking at my own children through that lens is kind of what’s made me think more deeply about it.
Andrew: Yeah. I really like that. That makes so much sense. I think we go through these phases as teachers, and it’s like kind of pre-kids, and then, you know, post having kids, and then as your kids become old enough that they could either literally be in your classroom or, you know, maybe they’re not exactly in your classroom, but they could be if they were in your school, you start seeing kind of the parallels between the students we have and the kids that we’re raising on our own.
One of the things, you know, as you’re telling this story now, and you were telling this story at the retreat, I just kept thinking about, it’s a very sort of like bittersweet story, because it’s like, you know, at one point, I’m envisioning five year old Lindsey kind of dejected, but then I think about, you know, how your tastes have changed, and how now we, as art teachers, get the opportunity to be mindful of this notion of kid aesthetics.
I’m just wondering about how you think we, as art teachers, can preserve and kind of honor kid aesthetics, and how, you know, it can be kind of tricky, because we want to have beautiful finished products up in the hallway. We want moms and dads to say, “Oh, this is beautiful artwork,” but at the same time, they’re recognizing an aesthetic that’s an adult aesthetic, and not necessarily the choices their kids made, so I’m just kind of wondering, like, do you have some idea of how we kind of battle that and try to preserve some of that for our own students?
Lindsey: Sure. Well, you know, man, there are a lot. I have a lot of different thoughts about that, like all kind of rolled up into one. I feel like, you know, I teach sort of traditionally, and you know, throughout my school year, I feel like it just, general teaching in my general classroom, is geared more towards kid aesthetics, but I do agree with you. There are a couple of times in the school year where I definitely feel that pressure, because there is such a difference.
I feel like the time that I feel the adult pressure on battling kid aesthetics is during fundraiser season, right, and then also during art show time, because those are like the two times that you’re really trying to promote advocacy for your program, and it’s difficult because advocacy for kids is different than advocacy for adults, right?
I mean, going back to the unicorn story, so like I mentioned, I’ve been corresponding with this uncle now, which has been like, it’s interesting, right, because this is like a person that, it’s like opening a time capsule. It’s someone I haven’t spoken with in like 30 years. It’s interesting, because my memory of that piece, as someone who was five or six, it was not my aesthetic at all, and I wasn’t interested in it at all, but as an adult, I would really love to see it again, because my adult sensibility, my adult aesthetic, is that it is really interesting and cool.
You know, I think now a decapitated doll head is like a really reused piece of imagery in art now, you know, it’s kind of cliché, but it wasn’t like 30 years ago, you know? He was doing something kind of pretty interesting, and I subsequently found out that all the portions of that piece were things that he found while walking on the beach, so sort of like meditatively walking and then creating things out of things that you happenstanced on or found.
It’s like, as an adult, that art is really fascinating to me. I don’t know, I feel like that kind of, for me, has opened this up even more, how I think philosophically about kids that, a piece that didn’t resonate with me and wasn’t important as a kid, might be really interesting to me as an adult. I feel like, I guess where I’m at right now, in my own teaching in my own classroom, is that it’s, you want to honor a kid’s aesthetic, right? You want them to have as much say in the direction of their projects and the product that they produce as they possibly can.
At the same time, I think it’s good to at least offer adult aesthetic opinions, too, for that same reason, that this piece that wasn’t interesting to me as someone who’s five or six, is now that I’m 30. I feel like it’s like trying sushi. You have it a couple times, and then eventually, you do think it’s a good idea. Aesthetics change.
I feel like the development that a kid goes through artistically and what they find attractive is going to naturally change, so if they’ve seen a lot of things when they’re younger, not necessarily been forced to produce those, but at least been exposed to them, then as they get older, that just broadens what they might be interested in in the art world. I don’t know if that makes sense at all, but …
Andrew: No, it totally does. The thing I’m kind of getting from what you’re saying is to offer up a approach to kids making artwork that is multi-tiered and nuanced, and maybe you don’t, you know, you’re not so teacher focused that it’s always just about adult aesthetics and producing things, but it’s also not always just a free for all, because there’s maybe something to be gleaned, from even the student’s perspective, in having adult perspective sort of like there also, not forced upon them, but just like, “Oh, here’s this thing, and here’s how you read it, and then here’s the same thing, and then here’s how I read it.”
I think that our students are sophisticated enough to kind of get, like, “Huh. You like this and I don’t, and I like this and you don’t,” and they can kind of deal with that. That becomes something that kind of goes in their toolbox, a little bit.
Lindsey: I agree. I think also, though, there’s something really precious about an adult completely honoring kid aesthetics, though, too. This other experience I had when I was younger … I had a lot of strange formative art experiences, but I had this great aunt who lived out on the West Coast, and I didn’t see her a lot, and she got a drawing from her brother, my grandfather, that I had made. I would have been even younger at this point, like four or, I guess, four or five. We’d gone horseback riding in the desert, and she was a very accomplished fiber artist. Her embroidery was unbelievable.
My grandpa loved this picture of us riding this horse in the desert with this cactus that I drew, and he sent it to her. She painstakingly reproduced every line. I even, when I signed my name, I was young, so I signed the D backward. It says ‘Linbsey’ at the bottom. She even copied that exactly. It’s like these two stick people with crazy hair on this big horse. The thing you can really identify in the picture is a cactus, but the whole thing must have taken her hours and hours and hours. He had it hung in his office for years. It was just an exact replica of the drawing that I had done in crayon.
I remember, as a kid, thinking, like, you know, she could have taken a photo, or there were other people in the family that painted, but that’s not how she spent her time, and that’s not what she hung on the wall. I felt like that that was, like there’s, I feel like there’s a balance between telling kids that what they make is beautiful and amazing just because it’s that period in their life and that’s how they draw and that’s what they’re interested in. When he passed, I got that piece.
I actually have that piece hanging up in my classroom, and my kids love it, because you know, I draw a lot differently now, and so it’s fun for them to see what my art looked like when I was like, you know, pre-kindergarten. I don’t know. For me, I guess those two art objects are like two different thoughts, I guess, one about an adult aesthetic that kids maybe don’t understand initially, but grows over time, and the other about just totally honoring a kid for who they are and what they make. Like everything in life, I think it’s probably a balance between the two.
Andrew: Well, I’m so glad you said that you had that. I was going to ask you if you happened to have that one.
Lindsey: Oh, I do have that one. Yeah.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Lindsey: I totally have that one. It’s great.
Andrew: Okay, I’ve got to ask you, though, and then I’m going to circle back to advocating for holding onto kid aesthetics a little bit more. Do you have, or does your uncle still have the zebra, or, the zebra, the unicorn in question?
Lindsey: Okay, so I asked around in the family, and like, because I didn’t have an attachment to it, nobody seemed to know what happened to it, but you know, he and I have been corresponding via email, and the last email he signed off, he said something about, like, “It’s interesting that you didn’t want this when you were five, but now you do. It looks like I need to start walking on the beach. Love, Uncle Rick.” It’s possible that there will be a version two of the found object unicorn. I don’t know.
Andrew: Oh, that’s awesome.
Lindsey: Yeah, so we’ll see. No, I don’t have that one, but I definitely have the embroidery, if you would like a picture.
Andrew: Yeah, I think that would be cool to share on this podcast when it comes out. The other thing I kind of want to ask you about, you know, you’re talking about the, kind of how sacred and precious it is when adults say, like, “No, this is important. This is how the students want it to look, and this is really vital.”
I’m wondering if you’ve ever had to be so sort of like deliberate and actually educate some fellow teachers, administrators, or parents, and say, like, “Listen, this is what kids find interesting and appealing. This is what they find aesthetically pleasing.” Have you ever had to kind of like educate adults to that? I can imagine that’s like kind of awkward and tricky to do that.
Lindsey: Yeah. You know, I think that there’s always those individual cases where you’re at an art show or you have something hanging for curriculum night or open house, and you hear those conversations between a parent and a student that just really make you cringe.
Like, I don’t know, I feel like the one, the conversations that make me the most uncomfortable, when I overhear them, are the ones that are like really comparative, like, “Why doesn’t this look like what your neighbor made,” or when an adult just can’t seem to have like those guiding questions that allow a student to explain the story, or the method, or the reason behind what they were making, but are more judgmental, just the form they see, I guess.
A few years back, I tried to combat that by, I don’t think people do that on purpose, right? I think it just happens when you’re not really sure what your kid was trying to do, and you don’t even know how to have that conversation. A couple years back, I tried to get ahead of that, and I started putting on my art show program, like, questions or stems of questions that you could ask your student about their artwork, kind of hoping to guide those conversations a little more productively.
Our school, in my district, we’re still teaching sort of traditionally, so we, I haven’t had to use like a broader advocacy yet where you try to talk to administrators or the larger community to get them to buy into more kid aesthetics.
Yeah, like, so far, I guess I would just say that the main thrust of that has been these guiding questions at the art show, because that, you know, I feel like an adult’s response to a kid’s artwork at that age is so important. You know? You either feel like so supported and excited about what you’ve done, or you feel just really deflated, and so I’m hoping to avoid that with my kids.
Andrew: Yeah. I like that approach. I’ll kind of get you out on here on this. When you were telling the story, I looked at you, and I said, “Lindsey, I didn’t know that you were like a TAB and choice based teacher,” because a lot of this, the sort of honoring of kids’ choices and kid aesthetics really, I think, is in the spirit of TAB.
You kind of said, “Well, no, I’m not really there yet.” I kind of want you to maybe talk a little bit about that, I mean, where you’re at when it comes to choice, and if you think it’s still possible for a teacher who admittedly says, like, “No, I’m still pretty traditional. I still, you know, I’m not a TAB teacher …”
Andrew: What can they do that still, you know, with their teaching and their teaching style, that honors student vision without just full-on, like, “Hey, have at it,” and you know, “We’re doing centers and all this stuff?” Maybe talk about choice in regards to this.
Lindsey: Sure. Well, you know, like I think the conversation that you and I have today about this would be different than what I would have said like three years ago, and it’ll probably be way different what I say like three years from now, but I guess in my journey of teaching, I guess when I think, like, personally about my own art making practice, I am more successful when there is some type of outside influence or like outside assignment.
I feel like, when I am given the chance to just make or do whatever, I sprawl a little bit. That’s just probably my personality, but you know, if we have a faculty show with a theme, or I got this really great new art supply and I’m going to use that, I feel like I personally work a little better with some restriction, and so that kind of has carried over into my classroom philosophy. My district still has a curriculum that, it’s flexible, like we are definitely not the kind of district that has projects that all look alike hanging, but I do still teach a lot through projects.
I don’t know. I wouldn’t say, I’m definitely not a choice based teacher, but I’m also, I feel like I give my kids a lot of leeway. For me, as someone who’s still sort of teaching traditionally through projects, I guess the way that I accommodate my kids and their aesthetic and their interest is that I just kind of don’t say no. When they come to me with a modification for a project, whether that’s materials modification or they want to do a different topic or, “Hey, Mrs. Moss, I’m not into this. I want to make it about blah blah blah,” I just don’t say no.
As they get older, because I have them from kindergarten to sixth grade, you know, over time, you develop that trusting relationship with kids, and they know, “Hey, she’s going to, if I go to her with this other thing, she’s going to say yes.” As they get older, I find them more and more asking for those things, and then, unless there’s like some really legit reason why they can’t, I pretty much just say yes all the time.
You know, you have a large body of students who are doing something that was introduced through a demonstration, and they complete a project based on whatever kind of them we discuss as a class, but then you’ve got this other group of kids who that wasn’t their fit for whatever reason, and that’s totally fine. Then, you know, if those kids are self starters and ready to kind of go their own direction, as long as I can still assess them, I’m totally fine with it.
I will admit, though, that when I hear people speak about TAB or read TAB articles, it really resonates in my heart, but I also, I know, like, I was in sort of an unusual first and second grade setting where you kind of got to plan some of your own curriculum, and I made like paper dolls for two years, so I was like really behind on second grade math, so I have mixed feelings about a totally open experience. Although I’ve heard and read about so many that are really successful, I’m just not personally quite there yet. Again, I guess I just don’t tell them no, is where I’m at right now.
Andrew: That’s such a simple but yet, like, like it’s a great strategy. It’s like a no-brainer, like why wouldn’t you allow kids who are excited about something to kind of go their own direction with it? The funny thing is, I think, sometimes, I’ll just go ahead and say this, and some people might get riled up. I think, I actually kind of got this idea from Melissa Purtee, talking to her a little bit recently, that the choice based community sometimes can have little camps, and you know, “We do it this way, and that’s not the way I would do it.”
At its worst, I think it seems a little territorial and weird. I’d like to think of a choice based approach to art education as having like a really big tent and there’s lots of room for lots of people. You might claim, Lindsey, that you’re not a TAB teacher, and I don’t disagree with you, but I think you’re pretty in tune with a lot of choice, and with this word kid aesthetics, so I think you’re up there.
Lindsey: Well, thanks.
Andrew: Well, thank you for coming on. I really enjoyed it, and I know our listeners will enjoy the story of the unicorn, so, and kid aesthetics, so thanks for coming on.
Lindsey: Yeah, thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: Man, I love chatting with Lindsey. I did kind of call her out there a bit, though. I think she is soon to be a TAB convert. I love kid aesthetics, and not just because it sounds really cool, but because it’s true. It’s a way to acknowledge and honor the vision and spirit of the young students that we work with. As art teachers, we have an awesome power to let our students know that their lives and their interests and their tastes and their likes, they matter, and they matter right now. It’s not just some silly fad that will eventually evaporate as they put on the real aesthetics of adulthood.
Man, forget that. I actually wish more adults could rediscover their kid aesthetics. You know, I could sing Lindsey’s praise here forever, but I don’t really need to. You all have seen her articles and her conference talks. You know that this lady delivers the goods. That’s why I’m so excited to share that Lindsey currently has two pro packs, first day activities for the elementary art room, just in time for that upcoming school year, and making the most of art history in the elementary art room. She even has a few more packs in the works that will be released down the road.
If you don’t know about Art Ed PRO, you should really check it out, especially if you’re in a school district that seems like they’re always grasping for straws when it comes to PD for art teachers. I mean, can we please have something relevant to us for a change? That’s why Art Ed PRO is so great. It’s like Netflix for Art Ed PD. It’s like the ultimate art education library, so you can access new ideas when and where you need them.
Whether you’re a veteran teacher or a newbie, or anywhere in between, AOE prides itself on giving all art teachers the most rigorous and relevant PD imaginable. Head on over to theartofed.com/pro and you can start your one month free trial of Pro right now. We know you’ll love it.
Art Ed Radio is developed, produced, and supported by the Art of Education, with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Hey, here’s a little secret to tell you, if you haven’t heard. The one and only Cassie Stephens has a brand new podcast. We’re super excited to kind of cross promote here, and we know that you guys are just going to love it. The first episode, I mean, that story about the niblets, oh my gosh. Forget doing us a favor. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to the Everyday Art Room podcast. It’s currently on iTunes or wherever you find and enjoy podcasts.
As always, new episodes of Art Ed Radio are released every Tuesday, and additional content can be found under the podcast tab on theartofed.com. All right, guys, thanks for listening.